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Expedite service: Evaluate your shop's equipment

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The equipment we use to maintain truck and bus tires has not changed that much over the years, but the accuracy and ease of use of this equipment has certainly evolved.

In this day of providing competitive, high-quality services to your trucking accounts, it's more important than ever to differentiate your company by being highly productive and proficient. Today is a good time to inspect your commercial tire shop and service bays in an effort to determine whether the tools and equipment your technicians use are adequate or need to be updated.

When you look around your shop and examine the equipment you use to service tires, there are some basic infrastructure and tools that you should see. Let's first look at your shop's infrastructure. By that I mean the equipment that is part of or built into the building.

The foundation of any tire service facility is the air compressor. You must have a compressor that will provide the volume of air required at all times in the service area. That means there must be enough air to inflate tires, operate air tools and vehicle lifts—all at the same time.

The air system must be designed to deliver 90 psi to all air tools while they are running. Perhaps your facility's demand for compressed air has increased over time as you added more technicians and air tools. You may find it necessary to replace an older compressor, add another one or use a holding tank in the service area to increase the volume available there.

It's a good idea in facilities with multiple uses of compressed air that air system alarms be installed to alert users when the line air pressure drops below the minimum needed for properly operating air tools.

Is the compressed air you're getting dry? Drain a couple of air lines and see. If any water comes out, you need to do something about it.

All air lines should be equipped with water filters and pressure regulators. The connection for air lines used to inflate tires should never be taken from the bottom of a run where water may accumulate. Lubricators should not be plumbed into air lines that are used to inflate tires. They should be installed only on air lines used to operate pneumatic tools.

If you are still getting moisture in the air lines, that will shorten your air tool and pressure regulator lives, as well as rust tires and wheels from the inside out, consider adding an air dryer to the lines coming out of the compressor. If you install an air dryer, ensure the air lines are drained on a regular basis.

What's regular? Daily if you live in a very humid environment and weekly in other areas.

Now listen carefully for air leaks in the air system throughout the shop and service area. Air leaks can rob the system of power to air tools and can be very expensive in terms of energy loss since the compressor will have to work harder. It also can cause a wheel loss when fasteners cannot be tightened to the proper torque. Therefore, all leaky fittings, nipples, couplers and hoses should be replaced immediately.

Next, check the pressure regulators on your tire inflation lines. I hope you have them installed and don't simply rely on your technicians to use their service gauges to check when tires are inflated to their targeted pressure. Using pressure regulators will enable your technicians to do other work while the tire is being inflated, and will shut off automatically when the set pressure is reached. They help ensure tires are inflated consistently to the correct pressure.

Placement of the regulators is important. They should be no more than 20 feet away from the inflation hose. The best place to mount a regulator and shut-off valve or quick-release coupler in the safety cage area is on the wall 10 to 20 feet from the cage—so if a zipper rupture is detected, technicians can turn it off a safe distance away from the tire.

However, pressure regulators lose their accuracy over time and need to be recalibrated or replaced periodically. If your shop constantly changes the regulated air pressure on safety cages to accommodate different size tires and air pressure specifications, your regulators will lose accuracy much quicker than regulators that are rarely changed.

Set up a routine to check their accuracy periodically. If you are routinely inflating tires to two different pressures, consider using two tire cages with two regulators set at different pressures to minimize the number of times the regulator has to be changed.

Use air lines with a minimum of 3/8-inch diameter in and out of the regulator to allow for optimum air flow. If you're thinking about upgrading the tire inflation process in your cages to speed it up and/or make it more accurate, there are several manufacturers of automatic inflation systems that are ideal for high volume shops. You should check them out.

If you don't use a regulator on the lines to the safety cage, an inline valve with a pressure gauge is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), along with a hose that is long enough to enable a technician to stand outside the trajectory of the tire's sidewalls while the tire is being inflated. Make sure that the inline gauge is accurate. Replace it if it isn't.

While you are in the safety cage area, you ought to check out your cages.

Tire inflation cages should not be bolted to the floor or modified in any way. If any damage is noticed, the cage must be repaired before it can be used again. However, since OSHA requires that a registered, professional engineer certifies that a cage meet the necessary strength requirements after a repair is made, it is usually cheaper just to replace it.

After checking the regulators for accuracy, what about checking your technicians' pressure gauges? They should have good-quality truck tire pressure gauges and check them regularly (at least weekly) for accuracy on a service gauge checking station. Do you have one?

You can make one easy enough by integrating a valve stem adapter into the air line next to a gauge and a regulator that is checked weekly with a master gauge, or you can buy these stations already assembled from any tire supply and equipment company.

This is not a big expense, nor does it take a lot of time to check service gauges. However, checking their accuracy on a regular basis will ensure the quality of the service work technicians perform remains high. When gauges are found to be off by 5 psi or more, they should either be recalibrated or replaced.

If you are thinking about updating your tire changing procedures, consider adding a tire-changing machine. These units can increase productivity significantly by eliminating heavy lifting and the physical effort required in manual tire changes.

Still, all manufacturer guidelines should be followed by technicians who should be trained to use these machines just as they are trained to do this work by hand. If your techs are still mounting and demounting tires by hand, inspect their tire tools to ensure they are free of burrs, nicks and sharp edges that can tear into tire beads.

If any are found, replace them. Also make sure there is plenty of bead lubricant on hand. Too often tires are changed even when bead lubricant is out of stock.

While they don't have any parts that can go out of calibration, tread depth gauges do have parts that can be damaged or worn out. Discard any tread depth gauge that has a bent stylus, has the numbers and/or scale lines worn off or whose stylus slips when you lift it off the tread.

Today you can buy digital tread depth as well as pressure gauges. These may be needed and greatly appreciated—especially by older technicians.

If you are doing trailer repair work, which is a growing trend among commercial tire dealers, check your service bays to ensure they are properly equipped. Not only do you need well-maintained impact wrenches to remove and install tire/wheel assemblies, but you also need calibrated and well-cared-for torque wrenches or electric/pneumatic nut runners that can control torque fairly well when installing wheel nuts.

If you are thinking about upgrading this area of your service bay, you will find that nut runners can provide good accuracy and productivity, although they are fairly expensive. They use electronic or air-pressure-controlled shutoffs to shut the tool off at a specified torque. There are also “wheel tightening systems” that will snug up the wheel nuts, apply the final torque and print out a receipt with the torque of each nut.

You may find that some commercial customers want to see this “proof” of wheel torque, which may be a service differentiator for your company and definitely worth the expense.

One tool that is not expensive but really increases inflation pressure accuracy and productivity is what I always called a “spider” drop. This is an air line drop that is attached to a regulator and has four air lines on it with clip-on chucks.

It is used to inflate four tires at a time on one side of a vehicle. You can buy these already made from a tire supply and equipment distributor or you can make them quite easily, too. You should have one on each side of a trailer bay so that a technician can hook them up to all eight tires on a trailer and walk away to check the lights, brakes, etc. while the tires are being topped off.

This will guarantee that all the tires are inflated to the same pressure and eliminate a lot of irregular wear caused by different pressures in dual tires.

Your fleet customers will notice the difference in the quality of service this simple tool provides and your shop productivity will increase, as well.

Another tool that that will greatly improve the quality of the service your company provides is a wheel stud remover/installer. This tool removes and installs studs with a hand-held press and without removing the hub.

More importantly, it eliminates the risk of damaging seals, bearings or the studs when using a hammer. (Bent stud heads and studs not completely installed in the hub can result in loss of torque, wallowed stud holes and inability to install the brake drum.)

Not only does it improve the quality of this service, but it also greatly reduces the time it takes to replace studs and is well worth the expense.

Wide-base tires are growing in popularity now, and you will be servicing them more often in the future as a result. If you have customers running these tires, I highly recommend that you equip your service bays with a dolly or handling system that will make removal and installation of wide-base tire and wheel assemblies easier on your technicians.

A wide-base tire and aluminum wheel weighs about 240 pounds. Without these tools to assist your techs, you can expect to see your worker comp claims rise for back injuries due to technicians losing wrestling matches with these behemoths.

As you can see, there are many types of tools available today that are designed to increase productivity, make the job easier and safer and elevate the quality of the service work your company provides its trucking accounts.

Just acquiring these tools is not enough. You still must ensure that your technicians use them, use them properly and maintain them so that they continue to give you years of service.

Running a commercial tire and maintenance shop isn't easy, but with the right tools and trained technicians, it can be a lot a more productive, efficient and safer—and will differentiate the service your company provides from its competition.

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